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Your Tampon or Mine?

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It was with some calculation that I prepared for the day when my daughter would first be "visited" by her "friend."

Beth Falkenstein: Menarche. It's the transitional milestone in every daughter's life that every mother anticipates with mixed emotion. And for generations, the poignant discussion of "Now you are a woman" has been followed closely by the decidedly less touching conversation: "Here, shove this up your hootie."

woman holding a tampon
Actually, not that many generations, as it turns out. Having entered her teens during the late 1930s, my mother was among the first to come of age during the burgeoning popularity of the tampon. Although disposable tampons date back to ancient Egypt, the patent for the applicator tampon with removal cord was not granted until 1931 (thank you, Wikipedia). Consequently, when it came to learning how exactly to use the blessed things, my mother was on her own.

To hear my mother tell it, on her first try, she was confounded as to how this invention could ever be preferable to the mattress she had been wearing between her legs. That was, until some angel explained that the applicator was supposed to be removed after insertion!

Perhaps that explains why, when it came time to instruct her own daughter in the proper use of a tampon, my mother got out the spelunking equipment. She had me spread-eagled on the floor, directing me through a pelvic self-exam that would have made any OB/GYN proud.

So it was with some calculation that I prepared for the day when my daughter would first be "visited" by her "friend." This was my chance to leave my own mark on this rite of passage, this passing of the baton, if you will.

When the day came, I had a box at the ready (the same brand reportedly popular with her girlfriends). I handed it to her and waited outside the bathroom door for her invitation. Should I be, um, hands-on, like my mother, or should I simply sit by her side, reading the instructions included in the box? Should I be clinical in my terminology, or should I use euphemisms (like "hootie," "visit," and "friend")? One moment of insensitivity and our relationship could suffer an indelible black mark.

After five minutes or so, the door opened. "Are you ready for me to help?" I asked with great sensitivity. "No, it's in," she commented flatly as she breezed past me into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.

At first, I felt cheated. This was supposed to be my mentoring moment. It was difficult to accept the fact that my daughter was able to navigate such a significant crossroads on her own.

Or maybe I should be proud of her self-sufficiency. I tried to just let matters lie, but the maternal instinct was running circles through my brain. She must need me on some level! Finally I peeked into her room, concerned yet discreet. There was just one thing I needed to make sure she knew:

"Did you remember to take out the applicator?"

A (serious) personal plea to all pre-menopausal women: The paper vs. plastic debate continues. For the sake of our environment, please consider switching from brands with plastic applicators to either biodegradable cardboard or digital tampons (OBs). Thank you.


next: The Pros and Cons of Procreating after 65
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Uly July 7, 2009, 12:19 PM

If you really care about the environment, you should switch to a menstrual cup.

No risk of TSS, you only have to empty them every 10 hours or so, no bleach and chemicals touching your sensitive areas.

ame i. July 7, 2009, 1:54 PM

As I did, my now 11.7 year old started started having her period when she was 10. My mom didn’t offer me tampons at first and I haven’t offered them to my daughter yet, though I have explained them to her.
I’m 40 & have given birth twice, occasionally use tampons but they still feel funny to me. I’m odd, but I’d rather change a thin pad several times a day than walk around with a chunk of cotton up my Lady. I’ve tried the cup but it feels even more funky than a tampon.

Anonymous July 7, 2009, 6:33 PM

My mom uses pads. The only “discussion” I ever got was “do you need more of these?” when we were out shopping together. Haha I know my grandma never explained anything to her 3 daughters, and my mom is a shy person, so she probably didn’t know how to address the subject with me. If I ever have a daughter, I won’t be so shy about it. I don’t plan on “helping” physically, but I’ll explain the best I can, and let the hypothetical daughter decide the tampon/pad thing. I use both, depending on the day and situation!

RachelAZ July 7, 2009, 7:44 PM

My daughter will not be offered tampons right away. I think starting with pads is the best way to go and once she gets older, then we’ll talk about tampons! If tampons feel uncomfortable to you, you may have inserted it on an angle which can make it feel wierd! You shouldn’t be able to feel it at all. And no thanks, I’ll pass on the cup. ICK!

Anonymous July 7, 2009, 10:52 PM

I am about to turn 12, and i got my period last year. i remember freaking out and immediately wanting to use a pad, having 2 older sisters, i was very sure. now i want to use a tampon, but cannot get it in comfortably, even though I’ve read the directions. I’d rather not have any assistance from my mom, I think it would be kind of awkward.Looks like I’ll have to just keep trying.

Christine July 9, 2009, 10:46 AM

This really struck a chord - the punchline of the opening paragraph had me laughing so hard tears were running down my face. You see, my own 12 year old daughter just started her period late last year. She used pads at first, but with 2 weeks at camp planned for the summer, I thought she should learn how to use tampons. She was having none of it - red-faced, angry and embarrassed, she literally slammed the door on further discussion. That is, until she came to me, crying, that she’d started her period 2 days before our beach trip. So I picked up the necessaries at the drugstore, explained the process as best I could with a minimum of pantomime to save her the embarrassment, and left her alone to work it out. She did, and all is well, but I never would have believed feminine protection to be such a mother-daughter minefield had I not experienced it myself.

Katherine September 16, 2009, 8:21 PM

I use this product called Instead (a cup like someone else mentioned) that I got at the drug store and it is literally so comfortable I can’t feel it. I highly recommend it.


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